02 March 2012

Oh well

In town for the Motor Law conference yesterday, I took the rare opportunity to run a lap of Green Park and St James's Park: a very necessary exercise after a near-all-nighter in my hotel room inserting last-minute papers into 45 delegates' packs and composing a questionnaire for the delegates. I did miss running it with company, though: this route is to me primarily about running with friends, but that was then, this is now.

I concentrated on maintaining a rate of 180 paces a minute, to avoid overstriding and keep my footstrike in the right place directly below my centre of gravity, particularly as with a whole conference-worth of stuff to lug around with me I only had my Luna sandals and I was concerned to avoid straining Achilles, which is still taped up (see http://www.runnersworld.com/article/0,7120,s6-241-286--13016-0,00.html, and I can tell you it helps: how much I don't know yet, but it's worth mentioning that the tape, which I bought from http://www.kinesiotapeshop.co.uk/, has been on for nearly a week and has survived several showers). The fast cadence certainly helped, and I ran the modest distance without a problem. Can I stretch than into a half-M on Sunday week? Of course I can - but it won't be fast, and it might involve cushioned shoes.

The conference was a memorable affair. I had worked out a few weeks ago that this was the 23rd annual conference that we have organised for Motor Law, the first without Anthea (at least in the background, as she was last year) and also the first for a long time without David. The first few years' conferences were actually organised by a commercial conference organiser before Anthea and I took the decision that we could do better ourselves: all but two have been at the RAC, and all but one have been chaired by David Evans. I suspect that there are some delegates who have been to nearly all of them, too, although I can't remember whether I got to all of them during the years from about 2000 when I sold my share to Anthea to 2010 when I took over the reins.

Nearly every year has opened with a session devoted to the block exemption, that strange piece of legislation as Hanns Glatz recently described it to me - and it has become stranger over the years, and through its four iterations. Most years we have had a speaker from the Commission, often the head of the unit: Klaus Stoever several times, Paolo Ceserini at least once, Maria Rehbinder last year. This year our speaker, Axel Bierer, was taken ill - it seems that there is a flu epidemic, or something, in Belgium - so at short notice we had the prospect of trying to run the event without the speaker many people would be coming to hear. Fortunately, the Commission organised a virtual replacement in the form of John Clark, who spoke at the conference a couple of years ago, and who could speak to us by videoconference. (A pity the Eurostar ticket was a write-off, though.)

How to get a videoconference stream from Brussels onto a screen and loudspeakers in the RAC Club - a venue with many wonderful attributes, which do not include cutting-edge AV facilities. Webex, an online Cisco system, seemed to offer the solution, so I took out a trial subscription on Wednesday morning, played with it a little while, then had to rush off to London as I had printing to collect, more printing to order, and a client to see. Dropping in to RIBA to collect a bag of conference necessities that I had deposited under my desk earlier in the week, I took a moment to consult the IT department about the chances of making the Commission's equipment communicate with my laptop. Steve, to whom I was able to show the technical specification which the Commission had provided, offered the view that even if everything else worked the wifi connection at the RAC would fall over if I tried it: so it would be audio only, or so I thought.

In due course I pitched up at the hotel where, expecting to be entertaining a speaker from Brussels, I had booked two rooms, one of them now cancelled, with six carrier bags full of conference packs and a box containing several late submissions (black marks for those speakers) which I would have to insert later. The hotel was several grades grander and more expensive than I would have chosen just for myself - but at least I had a large room around which to scatter the piles of paper I had to deal with. First, though, a convivial dinner at the RAC with the conference chairman and my co-director of Motor Law, which meant I started work on the delegates' packs at about midnight, refreshed with several glasses of wine. Unsurprisingly, the numbers of copies of additional papers to insert somehow failed to match the number of packs: meaning, I imagine, that some delegates received multiple copies of some papers. Oh, well.

The run was to clear my head, but it took up time when I might have been eating breakfast, which it turned out was not included in my room rate anyway - so I skipped that, checked out, lugged my bags of delegates' packs into a taxi, rode to the RAC, carted them upstairs and began setting up the Webex link. We struggled for a long time, during which I located obvious errors like my computer being set to mute and the speakers not being plugged in. We had John in the conference from Brussels and Mike in it on his mobile in the conference room, but nothing coming out of the speakers. Technical assistance, when the phone was answered (after about ten minutes) was unable to help. Too late we realised that the problem was almost certain to be that Mike had dialled in with credentials that should have been used by the computer - why should there be any need for the host to join his own conference? - but by then urgent action was needed. I closed down the conference, opened my Skype account, bought some credit (while delegates watched, fascinated, on the screen) and dialled John's number. There he was, loud and clear, though without video, which was excellent: except that his first words were to ask if we had the slides - necessitating a visit to my Gmail account, still (because I hadn't time to switch between displays, which always involves a few seconds' delay and anyway I didn't want to risk the whole edifice crashing down around me) on screen, downloading the slides and starting the show, which I controlled standing at the lectern until I thought to plug in the wireless controller which allowed me to take a seat in the audience ...

The rest of the conference, unsurprisingly, ran much more smoothly than that. Gene Brockman's Skype talk from the States, with video, proved a great success. Speakers present in person were also, without exception, excellent. A memorable day, but one I am pleased has now passed. Pity there was no time for a run in the evening. In fact, next year's programme might have stress-relieving run breaks instead of coffee and lunch. Now there's an idea.

No comments: